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Pakistani Christian killed for spurning Muslim suitor

Catholic group condemns 'horrific act of brutality' as man who set her alight is taken into police custody

Pakistani Christian killed for spurning Muslim suitor

Asma Yaqoob had burns that affected 90 percent of her body. (Photo by Kashif Nawab) 

A 25-year-old Christian girl has died in Pakistan after a Muslim suitor set her ablaze for refusing to renounce her faith and marry him.

Asma Yaqoob was a resident housemaid at the house of a Muslim in Sialkot, 106 kilometers from Lahore, when the attack happened on April 17.

After being taken to a local hospital, she was later moved to Lahore's Mayo Hospital with third degree burns that affected 90 percent of her body. She died on April 22.

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Her father Yaqoob Masih accused Rizwan Gujjar of dousing her with acid or petrol and setting her alight. 

"We were visiting her on April 17 night when someone knocked at the front door. Asma went out to enquire and moments later we heard her screaming in the compound," Masih, a laborer, stated in a first information police report.  

"Her clothes were on fire. We saw Gujjar fleeing the house. We pursued but he escaped. He wanted to marry my daughter but she refused due to the difference of religion."

Gujjar, a banner maker, is in police custody. Police say he has confessed to the crime.

The funeral of Asma Yaqoob was held on April 23 in Sialkot. Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Khalil Tahir Sindhu was due to visit her family on April 24.  

In a press statement released a few hours after her death, the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, a Catholic group, condemned the "horrific act of brutality" and demanded justice for Yaqoob. 

"Gujjar was forcing her to convert to Islam … we have appealed to the chief justice of Pakistan to take notice of this appalling crime and to ensure that the perpetrator is brought to justice," it stated.

The Pakistan Christian Action Committee (PCAC) alerted Christian females in a video message. 

"We salute Asma for her strong faith. I request you to report sexual or psychological harassment to your respective pastors, priests and political leaders or a sincere friend. We shall take notice and help you in getting justice. However, Christians must protest peacefully," said Rev. Amjad Niamat, the PCAC convenor.

"Poor families are usually pressurized to take back the complaint, accept diya (blood money) and reconcile with the culprits. We demand that this case be tried in special courts instead of trial courts."

Christian housemaids are often subjected to torture and harassment in Pakistan. In 2010, Kiran George was raped and burned by the son of her Muslim employer in Sheikhupura. She also died in Mayo Hospital.    

Also in 2010, Catholic maid Shazia Masih, 12, was found dead with torture marks on her body at the house of Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem, former president of the Lahore Bar Association. The Muslim advocate and his family were acquitted by a court in November 2010. 

According to a report by the Acid Survivors Foundation, 153 acid attacks were reported in 2014 but the number of victims fell by 52 percent in 2016. Most victims of acid violence were females. About 85 percent of the acid attacks occurred in Punjab. Many children end up victims of acid attacks by being close to the victim.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded 51 acid attacks with 67 female victims in 2016.

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